Labor Researchers Seeking the Way Forward

Non-Profit Strike Unions Workers

            Dallas       It was a crazy day, but we had made a commitment to present a paper that had been supported by the LRAN, the Labor Research and Action Network, at their 12th Annual Conference at Georgetown University, so, by God, a promise is a promise, even if it meant a 530 am plane to get there, a hundred-dollar cab ride to get out of there, and then, adding rain to smokey skies, a missed connection and the night spent in the Orlando airport with the rest of the wayward travelers occupying that particular chaotic piece of air traffic hellscape, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I wasn’t that familiar with LRAN, having been more on the organizing side of labor work, than the research side, but as a project of Jobs with Justice Education Fund, the enthusiasm of the crowd and the sold-out attendance underscored its value to the participants.  Our old friend and comrade, Georgetown labor historian and professor Joe McCartin, who also directs the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, was co-hosting the event, which is a good recommendation for its work, in and of itself.  Getting there near lunch, there was a buzz and little meetings going on all around, as researchers networked or sought common cause.

We had joined with MSW students at Georgia State University to take a deep dive into the working conditions and working environment of dollar store workers in the metro Atlanta area, and LRAN had invited us to share what we found.  I’ll share more about our findings about dollar stores and their workers in coming days, but here we were sort of the odd man out among new scholars doing various kinds of labor research, all of which was interesting.

For several hours I listened to fascinating reports.  One focused on gig workers during the pandemic years and how their conditions manifested racial capitalism.  A young scholar compared the transit strikes during the financial crisis in New York City with a huge and dramatic social movement strike in Seoul, Korea near the same time period.  Another looked at the role of social media in two union elections for a national nonprofit among its largely professional workforce.  A labor educator talked about organizing auxiliaries supporting mining strikes, mostly in the West.  An organizer and leader within an Amazon warehouse in North Carolina working with CAUSE, Carolina Amazonians United for Solidarity & Empowerment, discussed an oral history project examining leadership in the plant who had teamed up a scholar from the Michigan State University.   All of this was deftly moderated by Bennetta Robinson, a senior researcher with the AFL-CIO, specializing in looking at the greening of the economy.  It also turned out she had worked in Mississippi with a group we had worked with on rural electric cooperatives, then in Seattle, and now in DC with the federation.

Nothing boring about any of that.  Other workshops, running simultaneously in some cases and later in others, ran the gamut from private equity to agriculture and care workers to Atlanta’s cop city to the role of consumers.  All of that was just in the first day!

Workers and their unions are in trouble.  If anything, we need these folks and more, figuring out what we need to do next and better before it’s too late.